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THE SITUATION ROOM

Deadly Collaboration?; Arlington Outrage

Aired April 14, 2011 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: growing concern that two brutal regimes are working together to try to crush calls for democracy and reform. Are Iran and Syria in a secret deadly collaboration? Stand by.

Also, Moammar Gadhafi taking an apparent victory lap around Tripoli just hours after NATO planes bombarded targets near the capital.

And grave mistakes at Arlington National Cemetery here in Washington. Burial sites unmarked or mismarked, remains unidentified. A year after the scandal broke, what's being done to fix it?

Breaking news and political headlines all straight ahead. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The U.S. and the world are carefully watching the violent unrest in Syria right now, where dozens of anti-government demonstrators have been killed in weeks of protest. Today, the president, Bashar al- Assad, announced the formation of a new government, unlikely to satisfy demands for reform.

And now we have new information just coming in on the Syrian crackdown that has far-reaching and rather dangerous implications.

CNN's Brian Todd is here. He's working the story for us.

Brian, tell our viewers what you are finding out.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, few governments in the Middle East have been as efficient at cracking down on dissent as Syria's. Now we have information that Syria is getting help from another regime that knows how to do this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): U.S. officials tell CNN of an ominous new partnership between two of the most heavy-handed regimes in the Middle East.

They say Iran is giving material help to Syria to help the Syrian government put down pro-democracy protests. A State Department spokesman was asked about this potentially lethal collaboration. MARK TONER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Certainly, we're troubled by these reports and, you know, we would just say that if Syria is turning to Iran for help, it can't be very serious about real reform.

TODD: Two U.S. officials tell CNN Iran is sharing tactics from its 2009 crackdown on anti-government protesters. That includes crowd control gear and technical help and equipment to monitor and block e- mail, cell phone calls, text messages, and Internet postings by Syrian activists who are trying to organize protests.

Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon analyst who specialized in Iran and who was recently in Syria, says Iran is very good at using what he calls repression technologies. Instead of cracking heads in the street, which can inflame protests, Rubin says:

MICHAEL RUBIN, FORMER PENTAGON OFFICIAL: What Iran does is they take photos and with photo recognition, then they come over the next two or three weeks and they will round up people in the middle of the night where you won't create a spark, where you won't create a backlash and that may be what they are trying to teach Syria right now.

TODD (on camera): A Syrian Foreign Ministry official told state TV Iran is not helping Syria. An official with Iran's mission at the U.N. sent an e-mail to CNN saying his government categorically rejects the reporting as baseless, unfounded, and part of propaganda in the U.S. aimed at tarnishing Iran and Syria.

(voice-over): I asked Rubin a key question about Iran's role in the Arab spring.

(on camera): What's Iran doing more broadly in the Middle East? Are they helping others?

RUBIN: Well, Iran is trying to make these Arab uprisings their own. Certainly what we're seeing is a great game. Iran does see itself involved in a zero sum, balance of power competition with the United States.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Analysts say watch out for Bahrain. It is just across the Persian Gulf from Iran. And it used to in fact be part of Iran. The population there, like Iran's, is mostly Shia and Shia protesters in Bahrain are demanding the overthrow of the Sunni Muslim royal family.

Iran denies any involvement in the protests in Bahrain. And U.S. officials say they don't have evidence that Iran is meddling there yet. But, Wolf, watch out for Iran in Bahrain, very close there in proximity. And Iran does have an interest.

BLITZER: The Iranians certainly do have an interest in getting rid of the king of Bahrain.

TODD: That's right. The king of Bahrain is an ally of the Saudis who the Iranians frankly despise. They don't like the fact that the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based in Manama, Bahrain, which is just across from Iran in the Persian Gulf.

Also the Iranian Foreign Ministry sent a letter to the U.N. protesting the fact that Saudi Arabia sent troops into Bahrain to help the king suppress dissent. So the Iranians are starting to rumble a little bit about Bahrain. That will be a flash point, a lot of people...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: We're going to have more on this, my exclusive interview with the emir of Qatar coming up.

One point we should note is that Syria refuses to allow any number of international journalists to come in to cover what's going on in Syria. We have been trying, other major news organizations have been trying now for weeks. But the Syrian regime refuses to allow international journalists to get visas to go cover what's going on in Syria. They probably learned that technique from the Iranians. Maybe they knew that already.

TODD: They might have.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: They probably knew that. They didn't have to learn that one.

TODD: That's right.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

The Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi, appeared in public today. State television showed him standing in the sunroof of an SUV waving at cheering crowds, showing no sign he plans to step down. The latest call for him to go came from international delegates meeting in Qatar today.

Gadhafi's appearance came just hours after some of the heaviest NATO airstrikes on Tripoli in days.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen surveyed some of the damage.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Libyan government authorities said they would take us to the site of the airstrike. They have not done that so far. Instead, they took us to this building.

This is apparently a cafeteria building for the university here in Tripoli. And some people who say they were inside the building when the bomb hit say that they were absolutely terrified of course of the explosion, that they didn't see this coming in any way, shape, or form. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was a loud explosion. It was like an earthquake. I swear to God, it was like an earthquake, and it explode all the glasses (INAUDIBLE) and started far away.

PLEITGEN: Now, there appears to be a military base about 500 yards down the road. And they say that seems to be the target of this airstrike.

This building itself, the cafeteria building, sustained really only minimal damage. One thing they did produce was this piece of shrapnel which they say came from this particular airstrike. Obviously we have absolutely no way of verifying that at this point in time.

As usual, when they take us to events like this one, there is a totally spontaneous demo. It took about an hour for them to show up here. We were wondering why the bus hadn't left yet to take us back to the hotel. And now we know.

All right, so they finally allowed us to get a little bit closer and we saw smoke back there, which appears to be from a radar station that was hit. We saw that through the trees as we were driving here. Now, however, they say they want us to leave as we are getting a little bit closer to try and film all of this. They said that apparently the farmer over there does not want us to film his property, but he was the same guy who allowed us to film his family and interview his family before.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The glass in front of our house has been broken. And the wall was cracked.

PLEITGEN: The bomb that dropped here was part of concerted airstrikes that happened over the course of the day today. It was the heaviest airstrike that we have seen here in Tripoli over the past couple of days with protracted anti-aircraft fire going up into the air and several air raids that we could hear and planes circling over Tripoli for about an hour.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Fred is joining us now from Tripoli with more.

Gadhafi made this sudden appearance on state television waving through a sunroof. What was that like?

PLEITGEN: Well, it certainly is something that we haven't seen for a while here in Tripoli.

It was quite an interesting sort of scene of him driving through downtown Tripoli, having people next to him, of course a lot of crowds that conglomerated there. The way that these events usually happen is that they will bring in people shortly before Gadhafi shows up and then he will sort of go through that crowd, obviously the cameras rolling the whole time.

But it does seem to be also, Wolf, a big effort on his part to seem especially defiant at this point in time. We saw this a couple of days ago where we actually came face to face with him in his compound, where he also cheered to his supporters.

And of course it is also on a very important day for him to do this simply because you had these massive airstrikes here today, which really did go on for a very, very long time. And some of them were a lot bigger than the one that we were able to survey. And yet he still comes out on that day and sort of is cheered on by his supporters. So clearly this is something where he is trying to use this in sort of a P.R. effort.

But we have seen him sort of come out a lot more than he has in the past month since the airstrikes started -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He got all dressed up, got a little hat going on, sunglasses, looking like Moammar Gadhafi, I guess.

All right, thanks very much, Fred, for that.

Meanwhile, there is other important news we are following. And we are getting new firsthand information right now about some recent reports that Qatar is getting ready to arm if they haven't already started arming the opponents, the rebels, to Moammar Gadhafi.

Listen to what the country's leader, the emir of Qatar, told me in an exclusive interview just a little while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: You're allowed to provide weapons, you say, to opposition, but can you tell us if you are, in fact, doing that?

EMIR HAMAD BIN KHALIFA AL-THANI, QATAR: If they will ask for weapons, we are going to provide them.

BLITZER: Have they asked?

AL-THANI: Well, of course they asked, but it will take some time, some training. And it depends if we are going to push for this fast or not, because such weapons, it needs a lot of training.

BLITZER: Because, Your Highness, you know there are reports that French-made anti-tank weapons you have already provided to the opposition. Is that true?

AL-THANI: It might be arrived to them during the last two days. Possible.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: All right. We will have much more of the interview with the emir of Qatar this hour. You will see it. You will hear it right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He has a strong message that he is sending to Moammar Gadhafi. You will want to hear what he has to say.

Meanwhile, President Obama takes on Republicans with a very partisan speech on the deficits. CNN's Gloria Borger, she's here. She says it may have wiped out, wiped out the last trace of goodwill left in Washington.

Also, dramatic fallout from the scandal over air traffic controllers simply sleeping on the job.

COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: So nice. Jack Cafferty is thinking about spring break this hour. He is here with "The Cafferty File."

Nice relaxing spring break, right, Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: That's it.

Congress gearing, Congress gearing up for a two-week spring break that begins this weekend. Hey, they must be exhausted, right? This afternoon, the House passed that much-anticipated $38.5 billion spending cut. Then it went on to the Senate. They passed it. And now the lawmakers can send it over to the president and look ahead to their vacation, which they so richly deserve.

Getting out of town might be a good idea.

Here's the deal on that budget bill. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office revealed today the budget deal that was made at the 11th hour before a threatened government shutdown, that budget deal that was touted as creating the largest spending cuts in American history will actually only cut $352 million in spending this year, not the $38.5 billion that they all told us about.

Many of the cuts will have little or no effect on how much money the government actually spends because the cuts come from programs that are outside the reach of the annual budget.

I wonder if we're ever told the truth about anything anymore.

When Congress returns all tanned and rested, they will have just a few weeks to address raising the nation's debt ceiling. The Treasury Department says the U.S. will reach its borrowing limit of about $14.3 trillion in mid-May. If Congress doesn't approve a measure to raise the debt ceiling before then, all hell could break loose. Even a hint that that might happen would rattle world markets and knock the wind out of our already weak economy.

Some Republicans insist they will not vote to raise the debt ceiling, in the name of fiscal responsibility.

So, get ready for another game of chicken that will probably go down to the last minute.

But never mind all that. Congress is going to take two weeks off, spring break.

Here's the question: How would you suggest they spend their two- week spring break? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile.

BLITZER: Daytona Beach, you think? What do you think there, Jack?

CAFFERTY: At the bottom of a deep well.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: All right, Jack.

He's just joking.

President Obama raised eyebrows with his speech on deficit reduction because of its sharp partisan tone.

Our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, is here. She's written an excellent article about it on CNN.com. Among things, she writes: "Will the president's over my dead body denouncements of the GOP undermine any kind of grand compromise or even hurt the looming battle over budget cuts when it comes time to raise the debt ceiling? Goodwill is never in great supply in Washington. Yesterday, it may have vanished without a trace."

Gloria is here to talk about what she is just -- what she is seeing, what she wrote about.

It was pretty tough partisan attack that he made. And it was interesting that Paul Ryan, who is the architect of the Republican thing, he was sitting right there together with some other Republicans who were invited. And the president was basically saying, you guys want to destroy Medicare and hurt old people.

What's going on here?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it was a very, very tough speech. And it wasn't well received, as you can well imagine, by Paul Ryan, as you just mentioned.

Take a listen to what he had to say about it, Wolf.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), BUDGET COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: We got front- row seats to President Obama's reelection campaign speech. When the commander in chief sort of brings himself down to the level of the partisan mosh pit that we have been in, that we are in, it makes it more difficult to bring that kind of leadership.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BORGER: Wolf, it is not a news story that the president on -- Paul Ryan on how to save Medicare, he doesn't agree with the voucher plan, he wants to repeal the tax cuts for the wealthy.

But lately -- and this is what I found kind of surprising about it -- lately we have seen the president as more Clark Kent than Superman. He has kind of been standing back there, cutting the deals during the lame-duck session, cutting the deals during the government shutdown.

And suddenly, yesterday, it was a little bit jarring, because what we saw was not somebody who was standing back, but somebody who actually decided, OK, this is the beginning of the 2012 campaign. And that's I think what we saw yesterday.

BLITZER: Because it wasn't just the president outlining his vision how to deal with the national debt, the budget deficits. But he really spent a big part of the speech trying to undermine what the Republicans have in mind, which raises the question, why now?

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Well, right. And of course, the president is allowed to do that. We hire presidents to get involved in big policy debates. But the timing of this, Wolf, as you point out, is what is so interesting.

And it is about 2012. There are a couple of reasons here. First of all, as you know, the White House has been under assault from its left flank. They are saying why are you cutting so much, cutting deals so much with the Republicans? Where is your moral clarity, particularly on an issue like Medicare?

They remember in the last campaign Republicans attacked them from Medicare cuts. So they were -- they were pushing the government -- the president on that. And, secondly, the president had a big, fat, juicy target out there, which was Paul Ryan's budget. And he decided to take aim at it, because it was pretty easy.

My argument would be, Wolf, why couldn't he wait? We have a lot of important issues coming up. We have got to deal with this debt ceiling that is coming up. And if the president had waited, all this goodwill would not have evaporated.

And I'm wondering whether he is even endangering the gang of six bipartisan negotiations that are going on right now on deficit reduction I in the Senate.

BLITZER: Especially after eviscerating the Republican plan.

At the end of the speech, he says, you know what, let's all get together, let's start talking and work out some sort of compromise. The Republicans were really angry. They thought his aides would eviscerate them, but not necessarily the president himself.

BORGER: But, of course, the base of his party is very happy that they are seeing the real Barack Obama out there. If you talk to some Democrats in the Senate who are trying to get things done, not so much.

BLITZER: Not so happy.

All right, thanks very much, Gloria.

The search continues in Japan for victims of the recent tsunami and earthquake. But for the first time, rescuers are looking in one place dealing with its own crisis.

And a new U.S. naval weapon used to target Somali pirates.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: So, what is Iran's role in the unrest sweeping the Middle East? I will ask the emir of Qatar in a exclusive interview. He's also hearing about developments in Syria. Stand by.

And outrage over grave mixups at Arlington National Cemetery here in Washington, one critic calling it incompetence, if not corruption.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: International delegates met in Qatar today, renewing calls for Libya's Moammar Gadhafi to go away, to step down.

But the emir of Qatar, Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, is sending his own message from here in Washington. He met today with the president of the United States. And, later, he sat down with me for an exclusive interview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Your Highness, thank you very much for joining us.

Welcome to the United States.

AL-THANI: Pleasure to be with you.

BLITZER: Always good to see you.

Let's talk about Libya right now, because Qatar is playing a leading role in trying to get rid of Moammar Gadhafi.

How important is that to Qatar that Gadhafi go?

AL-THANI: Actually, we are not to our taking Gadhafi out. I mean our aims on how -- how the Libyans decide their future through the democracy they were trying to do.

BLITZER: But you've record the opposition to Gadhafi as the legitimate government of -- of Libya.

AL-THANI: That happened a few days ago and we are going to support them because we believe that they are trying to practice democracy in Libya.

BLITZER: You trust these rebels, the opposition? AL-THANI: In fact, their politics, you cannot trust anybody. The main thing is how they act when they come to power and they practice democracy.

BLITZER: So what should be done with Gadhafi?

AL-THANI: Well, we have -- I mean Gadhafi, I think if I was in his position, I should think about my country and better for me to leave or to find a solution, a political solution which gives the people of Libya their rights to choose their leadership.

BLITZER: So if you could speak to Gadhafi now, you would tell him what?

AL-THANI: I would tell him what I just told you.

BLITZER: To leave -- to leave Libya?

AL-THANI: I didn't say to leave Libya. I would tell him to find a solution. If leaving Libya, it's one of the solutions, it's fine. President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia. This is...

BLITZER: He left.

AL-THANI: Yes. The reason Mubarak, he had another fate -- another story by staying at Sharm El-Sheikh, but he left power. So there is many means to leave power.

BLITZER: He left power, President Mubarak, but now there are reports he -- he and his son, Gamal, they're under arrest.

AL-THANI: Well, this is an interior problem that belongs to Egypt we cannot interfere in it.

BLITZER: Right now, you are -- Qatar, like France, like Italy, has recognized the opposition.

But are you going beyond that, because there were reports that Qatar is providing weapons to the opposition to fight Gadhafi's forces?

AL-THANI: We are acting according to the -- to the Security Council resolution. If it's allowed to give aid to rebellion, military, other aid, we are going to do it.

BLITZER: Is it allowed by the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 to provide weapons to the...

AL-THANI: That's...

BLITZER: -- opposition?

AL-THANI: That's how we understood it and that's what the foreign minister of Italy two days ago in Doha announced.

BLITZER: So you -- can you confirm that you're providing weapons?

You're allowed to provide weapons, you say, to the opposition, but can you tell us if you are, in fact, doing that?

AL-THANI: If they will ask for weapons, we are going to provide them.

BLITZER: Have they asked?

AL-THANI: Well, of course they asked. But it would take some time, some -- some training, and depends if we are going to push for this fast or not. Because with the weapons, it needs a lot of training.

BLITZER: Because Your Highness, you know there are reports that French-made anti-tank weapons, you've already provided to the opposition. Is that true?

AL-THANI: It might be the last -- during the last two days possible.

BLITZER: Did you ask President Obama to recognize the opposition as the government of Libya like you, France, and Italy have done?

AL-THANI: Well, I think -- I wish they do it. I know that they are going to meet a top official in Washington today or tomorrow. But it would be wise if somebody -- if America recognize the opposition.

BLITZER: What is the role of Iran in all of this? Specifically in -- in fomenting or creating unrest in the region.

AL-THANI: Well, I don't believe Iran has to do anything with it. If you look to Egypt it's the -- it's the student or the people of Egypt. In Tunisia, it's the same. And Libya it's the same. I can not just push Iran to these matters. Even if you are meaning for Bahrain, Bahrain had this unrest before the ayatollah came to power. They used to have this demonstration in the streets. And I remember this when I was young.

BLITZER: U.S. officials tell us that Iran is helping Bashar al- Assad deal with the unrest, the pro-democracy movement in Syria. Have you heard those reports?

AL-THANI: What I hear, I hear about many things. But I believe Bashar, he started the reforms. But might be he was late, but I believe his role to do something.

BLITZER: What is he going to do?

AL-THANI: Well, I hear that he's changing the government and he's going to allow for free elections. He's going to fight the corruption, because this is one advice I was telling him to fight corruption. And I believe he's going to do this.

BLITZER: Because the U.S., the Obama administration, has condemned his use of force, the killings in Damascus and elsewhere in Syria. Do you condemn the repression that -- the brutality of what he has done?

AL-THANI: Well, I am, against any killing in the street by force. But I believe what's happening in Syria, it's need to be attacked in a wise way. Because unfortunately, I hear even some officers and military being shot. Until now it's agree, I really do not know exactly what's happen.

BLITZER: Is it your opinion -- and I know that Iran plays a regional role in your part of the world -- that Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb?

AL-THANI: Well, as far as I know that they are trying to build peaceful nuclear.

BLITZER: But beyond peaceful nuclear capabilities, are they trying to develop a military use of a nuclear power?

AL-THANI: Well, I hear this from the United States from different countries, but when we asked them, they are telling us that they are building it for peaceful purposes.

BLITZER: Because you have a unique relationship with the United States, their U.S. military personnel. There's an advanced central command facility near Doha. But you also have a relationship with Iran. Talk a little bit about that.

AL-THANI: Well, you know, if you look to Qatar we are a small country. And we have to defend, then, the rest of Qatar. Qatar doesn't mean if we have a good relation, military relation, with the United States, we forget they are, no. But we are open for all -- all other...

BLITZER: Is that possible to have a good relationship with the United States and a good relationship with Iran?

AL-THANI: Well, both of them, they have to accept our policy.

BLITZER: What does that mean?

AL-THANI: That means this is our policy. We are open for all the countries. And we will defend our interests. We see what is our interests. But of course, we will not be sided with country against -- against others.

BLITZER: What about Al Jazeera, which is based in Qatar in Doha? How much influence do you as the emir have over what Al Jazeera does?

AL-THANI: I mean, it is impossible for me to have influence to tell Al Jazeera what to do. Because they are journalists, and they will understand if the emir of Qatar is interfering in their -- in their job. They will not respect the job they are doing. Even internationally, Al Jazeera will not be respected.

But it's like the mountaintop (ph). You will find many different journalists and many ideas. Everybody is trying to say his ideas. But, of course, it's not necessary I will agree with what Al Jazeera say. Actually, Jazeera caused for me a lot of problems. I remember in...

BLITZER: But you own Al Jazeera.

AL-THANI: It doesn't -- if I finance Al Jazeera that -- it doesn't that I own it. Here in the United States, a wealthy man made -- broadcast television, he owned. But in Qatar, no. But of course, if I want to have very strong -- if we want to have very strong challenge, we have to provide it with money.

BLITZER: Your Highness, thanks very much. I hope to see you in Doha, Qatar. We're all looking forward to the World Cup games. Congratulations on winning the opportunity to host those games. And I know you and everybody in Qatar are very excited about that.

AL-THANI: We, I'm sure CNN will be present at that time. And I hope everybody can come and watch it.

BLITZER: Not just CNN. The whole world will be watching.

AL-THANI: Thank you.

BLITZER: Good luck. Thank you.

AL-THANI: Thank you, sir.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: All right. This just coming in. We've got some breaking news. The White House released the op-ed article that the president, President Obama, has just co-authored with Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France. An article that will appear in the "International Herald Tribune," "Le Figaro" and "The Times of London."

Let me read the key paragraph to you: "There is a pathway to peace that promises new hope for the people of Libya, a future without Gadhafi that preserves Libya's integrity and sovereignty and restores her economy and the prosperity and security of her people. This needs to begin with a genuine end to violence marked by deeds, not words. The regime has to pull back from the cities it is besieging, including Ajdabiya, Misurata and Zintan, and return to the barracks.

"However, so long as Gadhafi is in power, NATO must maintain its operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds. Then a genuine transition from dictatorship to an inclusive constitutional process can really begin, led by a new generation of leaders. In order for that transition to succeed, Gadhafi must go and go for good."

That's the key operative paragraph in this joint article that the prime minister of Britain, president of France, president of the United States have just co-authored. Key words: "Gadhafi go and go for good." And that the U.S. and the NATO allies and others like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates will continue. The air strikes continue the operation until Gadhafi is gone. Powerful words in that op-ed. Meanwhile, other stories we're following. Trouble at Arlington National Cemetery. Graves of America's heroes all mixed up. New information coming in.

And the push for a billion dollars. President Obama gears up for his re-election campaign.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place for many of the Americans who served in uniform, yet officials overseeing the cemetery have struggled. Today, they tried to convince Congress their problems are over.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has been working the story for us. It's a pretty shocking story. Barbara, what's the latest?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they did try and convince Congress that they're fixing the problems at Arlington. It was clear today Congress isn't buying it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is my wife.

STARR (voice-over): Vietnam veteran retired Colonel William Cook was stunned when he found out his wife's grave at Arlington National Cemetery was empty.

COL. WILLIAM KOCH JR. (RET.), VIETNAM VETERAN/WIDOWER: I sent wreaths at Christmas. I even took her mother up there so she could see her daughter's gravesite. And all she saw was a headstone and an empty grave.

STARR: His wife was actually buried in another grave. Army investigators have found unmarked graves, mismarked graves, unidentified remains and many problems at the nation's most hallowed ground.

REP. MIKE COFFMAN (R), COLORADO: This is an organization that is rotten to its core. This is an organization that has conducted itself really -- I think the best way to describe it is a culture of incompetence, if not a culture of corruption.

STARR: Congress is still furious and questioning whether the Army is taking the situation seriously.

KATHRYN CONDON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ARMY NATIONAL CEMETERIES PROGRAM: Sir, I can tell you personally that the entire Army, to include the secretary and inspector general, do take the issues at heart.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ms. Condon, I hate to say this, but words fail in this situation. It's obvious that they have something better to do today than to make sure that Arlington is beyond reproach. STARR: It isn't just the headstones and the urns found dumped. The Army found a single grave with eight sets of cremated remains. Three sets cannot be identified. Eighteen graves so far are mismarked or unmarked.

Army Secretary John McHugh says there's new procedures requiring that six different checks are made by the cemetery representatives to ensure positive identification of remains in caskets.

CONDON: As we stated before, in the first course of action, if we find a discrepancy is that we will contact the families that are involved.

STARR: But some in Congress don't think it's enough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Leadership that I'm seeing here at Arlington couldn't lead starving troops to a chow hall.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: Congress making it crystal clear today it believes there is a long way for the Army to go before it restores public confidence in how the military's -- the military is laid to rest -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr watching the story, shocking story for us. Thank you.

More trouble with air traffic controllers on the job. Now it's cost a top official his job.

And a quiet campaign is under way for president right now. Maybe not so quiet. Candidates already fund-raising at a furious pace.

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BLITZER: Happening now: President Obama in Chicago for three -- yes, three -- fund-raisers tonight for his re-election campaign. It's safe to say this is one of the oddest election seasons we've covered in several years. The president quietly campaigning, maybe not so quietly while the Republicans don't even have an official field of candidates yet. Let's talk about that and more with our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin, who is here.

Jessica, this campaign season, I think it's official. It has started.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It does seem that it has started. President Obama obviously raising money today. But we're not going to actually see him holding those campaign-style fund-raiser rallies for many, many months.

I asked, you know, some of his top aides, and they said don't expect that for a long time, because as you know better than anyone, Wolf, when you've got the Oval Office, you want to be presidential as long as possible before you switch into overt candidate. BLITZER: We're talking about, like, 30,000 people showing up at a rally, which is what he was known for in 2008. Tonight these are going to be more intimate fund-raisers where there will be hundreds of people there.

YELLIN: That's right. And we're going to see the president doing a ton of fund-raisers and not just tonight. Then he goes to California, and he holds fund-raisers in L.A. and in Simi Valley, in San Francisco. But the point is he's going to be raising money as a candidate but publicly talking to the American people. He will be acting the president and not candidate.

BLITZER: It's a little bit late in the game for all these Republicans to still be exploring whether to explore, not explore. What's going on?

YELLIN: This is really one of the silliest things I have seen in presidential politics in years. Because for example, with Tim Pawlenty, former governor of Minnesota, and Mitt Romney, Massachusetts former governor, we all know they are going to run. And yet they say, "I'm exploring. I'm thinking about it."

Some of that is legalese. But some of it is because, with no opponents, no primary fight on the Democratic side, whenever the Republican primary officially begins, all the attention will be on them. And so none of those candidates wants to be the first one in taking that barrage of assaults, as you know. And so they're all, as one person put it to me, waiting to be the last one in.

BLITZER: What's the latest we're hearing about Sarah Palin? Is she going to be in, not in? What's going on?

YELLIN: Well, remember, a couple of months ago, everybody was saying, "Oh, none of the Republicans will get in until they see what's Sarah Palin is doing." She's become somewhat less of a factor in the minds of the other Republicans.

She says quite openly that she is still deliberating on it. She says she's praying on it. She's making various stops around the world and leaving her options open to get in. She is rebuilding her PAC, which is where she raises money, so that whether or not she runs for president she will have money and an organization to influence the elections. But Sarah Palin remains a bug question mark.

BLITZER: If she runs does that mean Michele Bachmann doesn't run? And if she doesn't run, does that Michele Bachmann definitely runs?

YELLIN: It's a very complicated math formula, isn't it? If this one, if that one. Michele Bachmann says, you know, she is pursuing this based on her own decisions, not on Sarah Palin. And Michele Bachmann is raising a ton of money, so she could well pursue this whether Sarah Palin is in or not.

BLITZER: and if she runs she might even do better than Sarah Palin. YELLIN: In Iowa, for sure.

BLITZER: She is popular with that conservative base out there.

YELLIN: Yes.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

A scandal over air-traffic controllers falling asleep on the job. Now the president is weighing in.

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BLITZER: An uproar over air traffic controllers simply falling asleep on the job. President Obama says it's unacceptable. Now it's led to a shake-up over at the FAA with a top official stepping down. CNN's Jeanne Meserve is here. She's been working the story for us.

It is pretty shocking, Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, Wolf. All this ruckus being raised about napping controllers did lead to a resignation of a top FAA official today. Some predict more heads are going to roll.

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MESERVE (voice-over): Air-traffic controllers are the maestros of aviation, critical to safety, controlling planes from departure to arrival. But the rash of instances where controllers appear to have been catching "Z's' instead of watching scopes in Washington, Knoxville, Reno, Seattle and Lubbock, has now resulted in the resignation of the man responsible for the system, the FAA's Hank Krakowski.

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If they do not report for work within 48 hours, they have forfeited their jobs and will be terminated.

MESERVE: Since President Ronald Reagan famously fired 11,000 striking air-traffic controllers in 1981, their numbers have rebounded. There are now about 15,000, and a key lawmaker says the current problem is not a shortage of personnel.

REP. JOHN MICA (R), FLORIDA: We have 20 percent less traffic, air traffic and 20 percent more air-traffic controllers than we had before 2001. So it's really a management issue.

MESERVE: Current and former air-traffic controllers say a grueling, ever-changing schedule can lead to a dangerous level of fatigue. Adding to the challenge: working in a darkened room at night when your body wants to sleep, with no radio, television or books, often all by yourself.

To address that, the FAA is putting two controllers in 27 towers that previously had only one on the midnight shift. The FAA administrator and head of the controllers' union will also be traveling the country starting next week.

RAY LAHOOD, SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION: To talk directly with controllers. About their job, about the hours they work, about the conditions within which they work, and to really try and get a sense if there are some changes that need to be made.

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MESERVE: Now, Congressman Mica predicts other people and FAA management will lose their jobs before the dust settles. But today the secretary of transportation voiced full confidence in FAA administrator Randy Babbitt -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The theory is if you have two controllers in there, if one falls asleep, at least somebody will be awake in case there's an emergency landing that you have to work out.

MESERVE: That's the theory but, of course, they both could fall asleep.

BLITZER: That would be bad.

MESERVE: Yes.

BLITZER: Both of them would then be fired, instead of just one.

MESERVE: Right.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. So what should Congress do while it's on spring break? Jack Cafferty and your e-mail coming up.

And the revolution that toppled Egypt's president wasn't just televised. It was also online. John King talks to a blogger at the top of the hour.

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BLITZER: Here's a look at some "Hot Shots" coming in today.

In Japan, two people take a hot bath in the middle of debris from last month's tsunami and earthquake.

In Ivory Coast, a woman sells bags of rice in a market that's bustling, despite the recent political unrest and the violence in the area.

In Denmark, 4-year-old Princess Isabella watches closely as her baby sister gets christened.

And in Spain, look at this: this 9-month-old monkey is officially named Boo, short for Bumi (ph), the Hindu goddess of earth.

"Hot Shots," pictures from around the world.

Let's go back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack. JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour: "How would you suggest that members of Congress spend their two-week spring break?"

Kathleen in South Carolina: "They ought to spend spring break living in a homeless shelter under the same conditions as everyone else and be required to look daily for some menial job. Living without fancy houses, cars, meals, clothes or electronics might give them some insight into a world that they are far too willing to ignore."

Alex in Washington: "Help out at a food bank or homeless shelter to see how the folks at the other end of the economy live. The experience could provide those who still have a shred of humanity with a better understanding of the other America their donors never see from inside their gated communities."

These are pretty good. Except this one.

Rick in Ohio writes, "I'm sorry, but this issue is a non-starter. Perhaps you consider today a slow news day." What? "Perhaps you consider today a slow news day and simply asked the question to fill some space. I actually hope they invest some time relaxing, enjoying their families, pursing interests..." I'm not reading the rest of that.

Sue in Fort Myers, Florida. They ought to all be locked in a room." This is better. "Obama included, with no air conditioning, no electronic devices, no food -- maybe some ramen noodles -- and warm water until they come up with a budget that's good for all of us. Maybe the politicking would stop."

James in North Carolina: "They could join each other for a dip in one of their favorite pork barrels."

Mike in Colorado: "How about a trip to reality? Have them live on an average salary for the week, fly coach, pump their own gas, shop for health insurance, try to make an appointment in a V.A. hospital, talk to parents about the educational needs in their district, perhaps even talk to that busboy or cook who just might be an illegal immigrant. In short, they need to live the problems of this country so they understand what it's like to be a person that they are supposed to represent."

Bill in Wisconsin: "What have they done that would lead them to think that they deserve a break?"

Amen to that. If you want to read more on this, go to my blog, CNN.com/CaffertyFile.

BLITZER: I've been covering, Jack, Washington for a long time. And I'm still shocked that this $38 billion cut this year that everybody thought was in the last-minute budget, well, it turns out to be this year $352 million, off by only about $38 billion.

CAFFERTY: The mistake you make, Wolf, is expecting these people to tell us the truth. They don't.

BLITZER: Been a long time since I saw a mistake like that one. All right. Thanks. Fuzzy math, as we say. See you tomorrow. Thank you.

That does it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.